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Monday, November 28, 2005

A gift from the car thieves

The first look into my car at the towing yard gave me a mixed response.
My first thought was: "wow, they cleaned the car for me!" Then I saw the empty box of cigarettes and the food stains and sand on the passenger seat. Cleaner due to the lack of my junk, but not particularly clean.
Otherwise, besides the missing stereo and almost completely empty gas tank, they had tried to do the right thing:
opening up the glove compartment revealed an unopened bottle of beer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

making an academic career

A friend sent me a link to this essay on how to do professional networking, particularly in academics. I haven't read the whole thing, but it seems interesting so far. One point I appreciated was about how you need to make your own network rather than just joining another.
Actually the essay covers more than this. It covers some of the nuts and bolts of academic exchange.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

paradise now

This movie about suicide bombers actually has some things structurally in common with the play Marius mentioned in my last post. Love and friendship and life on the one hand, dying for a larger cause on the other (no matter how misguided it might be). It was somewhat of a painful movie to watch, but the friendship and general politics and philosophy were rich enough that the hair raising action plot wasn't too upsetting. It felt like a balanced movie to me, giving me a feel for some of the complexities in the Israeli Palestinean struggle which I hear a lot about and feel like I know little about.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Incompetent Design Song

Seed Magazine interviews one of the proponents of a bold new theory: incompetent design! Here is their theme song.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

public science

There have been some interesting discussions going on about public presentation of science at Cosmic Variance. See here and here for two related threads. When I say "public", I'd like to avoid the implication of a highly educated small special group versus a less educated large group of outsiders. I mean it more in the general sense of individual versus group communications. Using this meaning of public, I notice that some physicists show lesser and greater degrees of maturity in these debates. By maturity, I mean awareness with respect to one's role in the public debate. I think that some physicists have the attitude that everyone is as argumentative as they are and has equally strong opinions. But when you study a certain thing a lot, you are bound to have opinions about it that someone else can't really have, and this gives you both an authority and a responsibility to be careful with what you say. I think that some physicists want the former but don't know how to deal with the latter. Its a lot of work to try to understand one's audience so that one can understand the influence one has over that audience.

I'm not sure how clear that is, and if you read some of the discussion on the links I gave, I'm not sure how obviously relevant what I said is. I guess I'm trying to point out that physicists are not so good at this kind of debate. These issues underlie discussions, but many are not personally comfortable enough with them to deal with it in a responsible way. I hope that more public discussions like these will continue to take place and some physicists will gain maturity and humility in the process. I think that in this particular case, its really important that there is someone like Clifford Johnson who is well respected in his field, but also has good people skills and a sense of fairness and kindness, that balances the discussion and keeps it civil and productive. Some might argue that his bringing Lawrence Krauss to task in so public a way is mean and uncalled for, but because he backs up his criticisms with arguments and stands by them, putting energy and time into the ensuing debate, I think it was a bold and valuable thing to do.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

finding the center

I find myself wondering whether grey exists on its own terms, or whether there are only mixtures of black and white.

Is there a place to live between yes and no? between left eye open and right eye open? between mom and dad?

Its common to point out that much of news coverage has degenerated now to "he said, she said", that "balance" means superposition of polarity. But this rhetorical move from my situation to the general culture is too easy and too self-indulgent. I take my title from a book on pottery I remember seeing at my friend Peter's mom's house. The initial stage of throwing involves centering. If you blur your eyes, a spinning piece of clay will look centered, but your hands know its not, and when it stops spinning, it must choose an orientation unless it is truly centered.

Enough metaphor. (Mixing my metaphors?) Enough hiding in generalities. Time to take this to heart. Time to choose. But to create at the same time: to find reality in my own grey perspective.